Decoration Day

It was native Illinoisan General John A. Logan, a Grand Army of the Republic (GAR)* founder and leader, who declared May 30th (1868) as "Memorial Day" and championed the cause as a national holiday.

The multiple origins of the first Decoration Day, the day’s original appellation, in 1866, indicate that the abundant bloom of spring flowers provided a natural opportunity to decorate soldiers’ graves. Memorial Day evolved to honor the dead from all American wars.  It also became a day of sports.  The Day became an official American holiday, February 10, 1966.

A month after the United States’ April 6, 1917 declaration of war on Germany,  the Chicago Tribune lists a copious spectrum of Memorial Day sports events: golf and tennis tournaments, rollers skating and bicycle races, regattas, harness racing, track meets, and the White Sox played Saint Louis at Comisky Park. 

May 1917 also witnessed the Council of National Defense's, established August 24, 1916, request that states create defense councils.  Illinois Frank O. Lowden appointed 15 men to the Illinois Defense Council, May 2, 1917.  Soon thereafter, neighborhood, community and municipal councils followed the goals set by the national organization to prepare for war. 

Highland Park Mayor Samuel M. Hastings led the City's efforts.  By Memorial Day,  the local defense council approved by-laws and defined members and committees. 

Highland Park Postmaster's enthusiastic response to a request for mailing addresses is preserved on the margins of correspondence in the Council's records, "Why, yes!  to be sure!  I go in for the Old Flag and an appropriation. WMD."  A 4th of July Parade committee led initial patriotic efforts. 

According to its May 1917 by-laws:
"The council is established to co-ordinate in a single organization all war activities undertake with the city of Highland Park...
To help win the war
To increase and conserve food supplies
To provide for the dependents to those in the service of the country
To give aid to returned soldiers and sailors
To further the work of all war activities approved by this council
To create a fund to finance this organization
To stimulate and direct community and patriotic sentiments into practical channels." 

Ravinia had its own councils and committees as indicated in this letter to Mayor Hastings, declining an appointment to the Council. 

Highland Park's Hecketsweiler Studio framed this photo. These gentlemen wear GAR* ribbons and pins, including a 1913 GAR 50th anniversary pin on the hat of the flag holder. City Clerk John Finney is 3rd from the left, back row; and notes indicate a person named Rettig is also in the photo. Anyone who has more information on this circa 1910s photo of Civil War Veterans is encouraged to contact the library. 

Highland Park Defense Council, records. Highland Park Archives and Local History Collections. Highland Park Public Library.
Final report of the State Council of Defense of Illinois, 1917-1918-1919.  Illinois State Library.


*Fraternal organization of Union Army veterans.




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